Earlier this week a jury in South Dakota convicted the man accused of killing the son of National Football League Star Adrian Peterson of 2nd degree murder despite testimony by several defense experts that attempted to cast doubt on the cause of death. Throughout the trial both prosecutors and defense attorneys presented several medical expert witnesses who disputed the cause of death and culpability of the defendant.
Expert Witnesses Used in Trial of Man Accused with Killing Adrian Peterson’s Son
Joseph Patterson, 29, was found guilty of 2nd degree murder for killing 2-year-old Tyrese Robert Ruffin, the young son of NFL star Adrian Peterson. In 2013 Patterson was the boyfriend of Ruffin’s mother and was accused of murder after the child died of blunt force trauma to his head. Prosecutors alleged that Patterson had violently abused Tyrese, delivering four blows to the boy’s head that caused the fatal trauma.
To support their contention, prosecutors called medical expert witness Donald Habbe, a forensic pathologist, to explain the results of Ruffin’s autopsy to the jurors. Habbe told the jurors that the four wounds on Tyrese Ruffin’s head were consistent with blunt force trauma. Habbe went on to testify that bleeding in the brain and back of the eye which caused Ruffin’s death were likely the result of the blows that left the marks on the boy’s skull. According to Habbe’s expert opinion, the cause of the boy’s death was not accidental, but was a homicide caused by child abuse.
Defense attorneys for Patterson responded with medical experts to counter the prosecution’s claims that Ruffin was murdered by introducing other possible causes of the injuries the boy suffered.
Defense Attorneys for Joseph Patterson Present Expert Testimony
In response to the prosecution’s allegations that Patterson delivered the fatal blows to Tyrese Ruffin, defense attorneys called medical experts to present alternative theories of the boy’s death. Dr. Waney Squire, a neuropathologist from Oxford, England who specializes in injuries to children, took the stand after examining Ruffin’s brain samples. According to Dr. Squire, Ruffin’s brain samples did not indicate a traumatic injury suffered directly to the skull, and the blood in the boy’s brain was not nearly at the levels she would expect if the 2-year-old had been struck or shaken. Instead, Dr. Squire suggested the forensic evidence was consistent with evidence of a child choking to death while being given CPR – supporting Patterson’s claim that he had attempted to revive the boy who was choking on a fruit snack.
Dr. Roland Auer, a neurologist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, took the stand to directly refute a prosecution expert who had concluded that brain hemorrhaging is a clear sign of trauma. According to Dr. Auer, the physical markings evident on the boy’s body were not severe enough to support the type of injuries that would have been sufficient to cause fatal brain trauma. Like Dr. Squire, Dr. Auer told jurors that the prosecution’s medical experts had been too hasty when coming to the conclusion that Tyrese Ruffin’s death was the result of deliberate and abusive blunt force trauma administered by the defendant.
Ultimately, jurors were not convinced by the efforts of Patterson’s defense expert witnesses and convicted the defendant 2nd degree murder for Tyrese Ruffin’s death. Patterson’s conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, which he will begin serving after the formal conclusion of his criminal proceedings.
Joseph Patterson Prosecutors Question Cost of Expensive Expert Witnesses
Throughout the course of the Patterson prosecution more than 12 medical expert witnesses had testified about the disputed cause of death of 2-year-old Tyrese Ruffin, raising concerns about the rising costs of expert witnesses. Prosecutors told the media that they generally use doctors or forensic examiners who had directly interacted with the victim during treatment or after death, but defense teams are more likely to use high priced experts to examine the evidence of the crime well after it happened. State attorneys prosecuting Patterson have an annual budget of $2,500 per year to pay experts which limits their ability to hire the same type of outside expert witnesses that defense lawyers have access to.
Even public defender expert witness budgets can dwarf prosecution allocations, allowing for the pursuit of high priced experts to take the stand for defendants. In the Patterson case, Dr. Squire received more than $10,000 for her work while Dr. Auer was paid at a rate of $400 per hour to investigate and testify about Tyrese Ruffin’s death. Such an inequitable balance in ability to hire expert witnesses leads to concerns that defense attorneys can solicit high priced hired guns to sway jurors with elite credentials that prosecution experts cannot match.
While the highly credentialed medical experts testifying on behalf of Joseph Patterson were not enough to sway the jury in this case, the budget discrepancy that allows defense attorneys to pursue higher priced experts is a concern shared by prosecutors across the country who struggle to find experts who fit their budget.